Freedom Of Mind Festival began as a vision – the kind that you elaborately plan in the shower and then usually do absolutely nothing about once you get out and dry yourself down.
I wanted to run a social justice-themed festival, where all the people of Bristol could come together and have fun, support local businesses/talent and raise money for the most vulnerable in our society. I think I just wanted to be Bob Geldof, to be honest.
After proposing the idea to a few youth workers/entertainments type people, somebody recognised how passionate I was about mental wellbeing (as this was my campaign when I was a Member of Youth Parliament) and they suggested that I shrink the focus of my festival to revolve around this. Freedom of Mind Festival was born.
Seventeen months later, my ambitious vision is shared by a strong committee of ten talented individuals and one hundred volunteers. I remember being overwhelmingly excited by the initial graphics that were mocked up for the festival and our tailored email addresses.
Now, I can actually hold and turn the pages of our (free) promo booklet. I have been quite literally observing my vision come into fruition, in the form of tangible pieces of artwork and resources. Watching my ideas come to life in the minds and work of others is the most incredible experience.
However, none of this would have happened without our managing director, Katie Finch. She can be credited with being the driving force behind Freedom of Mind festival and equipped with the largest selection of brightly coloured Sharpies I have ever seen.
I first met her in the summer of 2015, after she emailed the Bristol City Youth Council (of which I am a member) in order to ask about how we might collaborate on our mental health campaigns.
She sat in a coffee shop and let me (poorly) share my idea for Freedom of Mind. I told her that it would be a series of events that would aim to create conversation, education and change around the way people view and speak about mental wellbeing – in order to make Bristol a healthier and happier city. That is exactly what we have created.
Freedom of Mind Festival will run from September 30 until October 10, World Mental Health Day. It encompasses a launch party gig, a men’s panel, a political panel, an art gallery, a documentary screening, a book signing, a short film night, a spoken word night, a comedy night and a huge conference as the grand finale. *Deep breath*. And that’s not even the full catalogue of events…
There’s something going on for everyone and I really hope to see you at some of our events. But what I want to impart to you right now is a few things that I’ve learnt along the way, in order to get to this extraordinary situation whereby I am living in an idea that I had over a year ago. So here goes:
1) Compromise is key
I compromised my original idea in order to pursue something with greater focus and viability. Without taking this step, Freedom of Mind festival would still just be an idea floating around in my shower. Along the way many compromises have been made, which have meant that Freedom of Mind festival is now truly a collaborative effort. There is nothing more beautiful than something being achieved by a collective.
2) Never let go of your original inspiration and ambition
I wanted Freedom of Mind to battle the stigma, prejudice and ignorance that surrounds mental wellbeing and mental illness. I usually don’t have to go very far to find a reminder of why this is so important to me. Flippant comments about suicide being “cowardly”, self harm being “attention seeking” and men needing to “man up” are usually enough.
Throughout this process, I have maintained that we must support and work with local organisations and reach out to the most vulnerable demographics. We will very much be serving the community through themes of social inclusion and by using independent businesses as often as possible.
This remains as important to me as ever and by pursuing this aspect of my vision, I hope to involve as many Bristolians as possible. I also never let go of my original huge ambitions to create something that could reach the whole city. When we were starting out, Katie and I were often received with:
“Oh wow this is a very good idea, but don’t you think you’re being a bit ambitious?”
“You need to be more realistic.”
“I think maybe soft launch something this year and then try again with something bigger next year”.
With the help of everyone else at Freedom of Mind, we’ve been able to ignore all this pessimism. Satisfying, to say the least.
3) Delegating tasks and taking a backseat is important
I find it really difficult to let go and let others take responsibility for things that I will be putting my name on. I have always been the person who, when asked to create a presentation in a group, will delegate and give others responsibility for certain slides and then edit them all to match the quality of my slide the night before we present to the rest of the class.
I’m pretty sure this makes me a terrible person, but I’m working on it. Freedom of Mind Festival has forced me to learn to trust others. Throughout my AS exam period (yes, somehow I did think it was a good idea to found a festival in the midst of my A Levels), I was the most absent member of the committee and that taught me to accept that my way is not the only right way to do things.
4) It’s okay to ask for help and to switch your laptop off
It has been very easy for me to end up sitting up until 2am every night making spreadsheets and sending emails. It has been very easy for me to forget that I also have A Levels to pass and friends and family to spend time with. It has been very easy for me to forget about me.
Sometimes you become so consumed in your own productivity that you end up grinding yourself down to a shell of yourself. I’ve had to learn to recognise when I don’t have the time or capacity to do certain tasks and when I need to ask someone to help me.
I now understand the value of time spent not working towards an end goal but doing something that makes me happy.
5) Money makes the world go round, just not fast enough
Our biggest hurdle from the beginning, as you may expect, has been finance. We are largely relying on the generosity of organisations and individuals to provide subsidies for certain events/to work on a voluntary basis.
This means there is a very generous and proactive spirit amongst the team but the practicalities of running an 11 day programme of events with inconsistent funding has proven to be a challenge.
It’s frustrating that we have to meet corporate expectations in order to make a very organic idea happen but we have an incredible finance director (yes, that’s you Tom Renhard) who has kept an eye on the budget.
When we launch the festival on the 30th September, we will also be launching a crowd-funding page in order to ensure that Freedom of Mind can take place next year, and the year after, and the year after that…
Freedom of Mind has been both the most rewarding and most challenging thing I have ever done. It has allowed me to learn who I am as a human being, a business-person and a community activist.
Most of all, I have learnt the value of sharing ideas (often over coffee).
Read more: My Bristol favourites: Ella Marshall